Private sector should embrace bio-fuel, says IRST boss
For some years now, there has been talk of locally producing biofuel to make the country less dependent on petrol imports. But until now, production levels are still insignificant.
Yet about four years ago, the Scientific and Technological Research Institute (IRST) successfully tested a bus running on locally made biodiesel. They also set up a production facility, which today has a daily capacity of 2000 liters processed from 1840 kg of palm oil, which is imported from the DR Congo. However, the institute also conducted research showing that plants such as jatropha and moringa could be grown in the country to produce biodiesel.
Dr. Jean Baptiste Nduwayezu, the IRST director general, explains that all this was done just to show that such a project is feasible but that it is not the role of a research institute to venture into mass production. That, he says, should be up to the private sector.
“People believe something when they see it,” Nduwayezu says. “It was not easy to convince entrepreneurs to embrace our project while they had no prior experience.”
The institute had also drafted a project and bio-diesel policy in 2008, yet the proposal still awaits cabinet approval. According to the plan, trees grown on 225,000 ha would make Rwanda self-reliant in biodiesel by 2025, the IRST director general explains. Currently, the country’s petrol consumption stands at 205 million liters per year.
Steps had already been taken to achieve that goal. In 2009, the US-based Eco Fuel Global and the British company Eco Positive ltd signed a bio-fuel investment deal with an estimated value of US$ 250 million. In the first phase, they would have invested US$ 50 million in the establishment of a jatropha plantation of 10,000 hectares on which some 120 million trees would be grown. The biofuel would be extracted from the plants’ seeds.
According to Protais Musoni, the minister in charge of cabinet affairs, the agreement stipulated they would be producing 15 million liters of biodiesel per annum by 2014. However, the project has been delayed since the companies didn’t manage to find all the funds required. As a result, so far only 42,000 trees have been planted, while 1.6 million seedlings will be planted soon.
In addition, following a recent cabinet decision a monitoring team composed of the ministries of natural resources, agriculture and infrastructure has been set up to follow up the project, Musoni says.
At the same time, IRST too is set to step up its production. To this purpose, the institute has set up a joint public-private company called Rwanda Biodiesel Company Ltd which was recently officially registered. Yet according to director Nduwayezu, the ideal would be to leave production to the private sector while IRST deals with research.
Not only will this project help in making Rwanda more self-reliant when it comes to fuel, it will also create a significant amount of jobs: IRST has a deal with 122 small oilseed-producing cooperatives, numbering 12,185 members.
So far, they have planted 923,865 trees, which according to Nduwayezu should increase to about 3 million by the end of the year. The resulting biodiesel can be used in all diesel engines of vehicles made after 1995, as well as for cooking stoves and power generation.
That of course leaves the numerous petrol vehicles on Rwanda’s roads in the cold, which is why, according to the IRST boss, research in bio-ethanol is next on the list.
“Our aim is to make Rwanda self-reliant in energy,” Nduwayezu says. “Generating fuel from oilseed trees grown locally will be a strategic way to sustain our economic development.”